What began as a lecture on a new paper by a brilliant literature professor turned into a classroom-wide debate between professors in the English department on Tuesday evening. The presenter was Dr. Robert Hollander, the now retired Professor Emeritus of European Literature at Princeton University. He has served as the president of the Dante Society of America and has been the founding director of the three most popular Dante websites in the country.
Dr. Hollander presented a paper on Shakespeare’s Tempest in which he argued for the importance and wisdom of the character Gonzalo in the play, and focused specifically on a scene in which the figure of the widow Dido is discussed.
Dr. Hollander was humorous and endearing during his lecture, beginning with lavish praise for the University of Dallas.
“UD seems like something that in the 20th and now 21st century is impossible even in conception … and to see it surviving is heartening.”
Shortly into his presentation he noted his idiosyncratic pronunciation of the name “Dido,” his emphasis falling on the first three letters, making it sound like “Did-o.”
Dr. Hollander commented: “If you don’t like ‘widow Did-o,’ tough. Allow me the pleasure of offending you.”
Dr. Hollander spoke with great sophistication yet tremendous clarity, explaining a crucial, yet little-noted, theme in Shakespeare’s Tempest of the optimistic wisdom of the character Gonzalo, who appears like a fool yet is never once wrong and undermines the apparent wisdom and skill of the character Prospero, who is often viewed as an avatar for the author himself.
Dr. Hollander said of his paper: “I’m not a Shakespearean. This is my first Shakespeare publication. I feel like I’m 18 years old.”
Shortly after Dr. Hollander finished his presentation, Dr. Moran gave a brief response, bringing up possible Biblical references and historical contextualization, most prominently noting themes of possible Catholic-Protestant tension in the play’s dialogue.
After Dr. Moran gave his response, during which he stated he found Dr. Hollander’s argument totally convincing, a general discussion involving several faculty members, notably Dr. Waterman-Ward and Dr. Moran, occurred.
Dr. Hollander was also active in the discussion, notably exclaiming, “Could you imagine Newt Gingrich choosing Gonzalo as his running mate?” as the discussion drew to a close. The discussion closed, however, with nigh-universal praise of Dr. Hollander’s paper from the English professors who were present.